GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Portland Rosen insists she was never pressured by her three sisters into playing Division I college softball.
Rosen’s two oldest siblings – Jorden (27) and Courtney (26) – played softball at Syracuse and Florida State, respectively, and her 19-year-old sister, Darby, is an infielder for the University of North Carolina.
Portland, however, chose to hit a smaller ball.
I told her she could be an Olympian [playing softball], said her father, Rocket Rosen.
Perhaps he was being prophetic. Softball was removed from the Olympic schedule after the 2008 Games while golf will return to the docket in 2016. And Portland, 22, of Sugar Land, Texas, immediately fell in love with the game once her father invited her to the course as a young teen. That passion led to a college scholarship to the University of Virginia, where she played the past four seasons.
This week at Nassau Country Club, Portland, who just claimed the Texas State Women’s Amateur on Aug. 1 in Dallas, is concluding her amateur career at the 114th U.S. Women’s Amateur. She posted qualifying rounds of 71-72 to easily qualify for match play, which begins on Wednesday.
Portland’s loquacious father is serving as her caddie, offering encouragement on every hole.
Great nine, Rocket yelled after Portland posted a 1-under 34 on the outward nine on Tuesday.
She won’t brag on herself, said Rocket. She’s just like her mother. Her mother is her hero.
Portland’s burgeoning golf career began to take shape two years ago when she carded a career-best 66 in the first round of the NCAA Championship to finish eighth overall and earn honorable-mention All-America honors.
Not even her three softball-playing sisters could boast those accolades. But Portland said there’s never been internal family competition. Rocket and Robin Rosen made sure of that. Everybody supported one another. It just happened that Portland chose a different path.
Rocket, a well-known criminal-defense attorney in Houston, wanted his daughters involved in sports to keep them disciplined and out of trouble.
They participated in gymnastics, dance and equestrian, among other sports as children.
[Sports] teaches responsibility, ethics, character, Rocket said. I guess being a criminal lawyer and doing what I do every day, I would see 14-, 15-, 16-year-old girls just stray away. They would find a boyfriend, they would get pregnant, maybe they would do drugs … But every Friday, [my daughters] had to go to sleep early because they had a game on Saturday.
At one time, Portland was a hotshot youth pitcher who could throw a nasty drop ball. She even pitched for the Clements High junior-varsity softball team until golf developed into a full-time endeavor. Each year, Portland would play in the annual Doral-Publix Junior Golf Classic. Her father grew up in Miami and as a child would attend the PGA Tour’s annual event at Doral. He would ask for balls from players such as Julius Boros and the late Tony Lema. He loved Seve Ballesteros, Tom Weiskopf and Jack Nicklaus.
But for Portland, the homecoming was a chance to showcase her skills in front of college coaches. As a high school sophomore, she made the cut at Doral with Virginia coach Kim Lewellen paying close attention. She also qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 2008 (Hartford Golf Club in Connecticut) and 2009 (Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.).
Portland watched as her two older sisters left Texas for East Coast schools, so the chance to play away from home intrigued Portland, too. Arkansas, which had been highly successful with another Houston-area golfer (Stacy Lewis), also showed interest. Once Rosen stepped onto the Charlottesville, Va., campus, however, she was immediately sold. The school, designed and founded by former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, oozed with history and ambiance. Rosen wanted to spend the next four years of her life there.
My two sisters talked so highly of being at a D-I school playing a sport that that’s what I wanted to do, said Portland. My goal was to play a sport in college. I wanted to get a good education while playing a sport.
When I went [to Virginia], I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to go home. The team, the coaches, the atmosphere, the buildings, the facilities … the history was so cool. It fit.
While Portland, a two-time recipient of the Houston Chronicle’s Female Golfer of the Year honor (2009, 2010), never posted a collegiate victory, she did enjoy success with the Cavaliers. In addition to her eighth-place showing at the 2012 NCAAs, she was the runner-up at the Florida Gator Invitational in 2013. She finished her career with four top-10 finishes.
Last summer, she was chosen as one of five USA representatives to participate in the Maccabiah Games in Israel. Held every four years for Jewish athletes from around the world, the 19th Maccabiah Games drew more than 7,500 athletes from 76 countries – the third-largest athletic competition behind the Summer Olympics and the World Cup – to participate in 34 sports, including golf. Rosen finished second in the Ladies Open Division to Duke University standout Laetitia Beck, of Israel, who was playing on her home course (Caesarea Golf Club). The USA also finished second as a team, by two strokes to host Israel.
It was the best experience of my life, said Portland, who also spent two additional weeks in the country sightseeing and visiting ancient religious landmarks. I met people from all over the world. I still keep in touch with a lot of them.
Following graduation in May, Portland has been tirelessly working toward the next phase of her golf career. Quality advice has come from a variety voices, including her swing instructor, Paul Marchand, at Shadow Hawk Golf Club, where she is a member. Marchand played at the University of Houston under legendary coach Dave Williams and currently works with the likes of 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples and 2014 U.S. Senior Open champion Colin Montgomerie. Former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, a member at the adjacent Houstonian, also has told her to make sure she is 100 percent committed.
In two weeks, Portland will enter the first stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
She hopes it will lead to a fruitful career. But if golf doesn’t produce results, the gregarious Portland said she has no intention of following her father and two older sisters into the law profession. Being an attorney is not in her DNA. Her mother, however, raises thoroughbreds, a hobby she got into when one of Rocket’s clients paid him with a couple of mares in lieu of cash. Recently, one of their fillies won a small race in Texas.
Just like racing, Portland knows the odds of finding LPGA Tour success are small. But she wants to give it a shot without regrets.
I feel like I have a lot more to give, she said, and I would regret it if I didn’t try. My dad is really supportive and so is my entire family.
Portland won’t be hitting home runs or giving them up on a softball diamond, but golf’s grand slam is there for the taking.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.